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Preparing for wildfires and other disasters — long before they strike

Matt Schulz

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As large parts of drought-ridden, wind-blown Central Texas burned, my wife and I realized we needed to talk.

“If we had to evacuate because wildfires were approaching our house,” I asked, “what would we take?”

It’s just a hypothetical question for us right now, thank heaven. However, that’s exactly the time when you should have the conversation — not when you’ve just gotten a reverse 911 call telling you to evacuate as a roaring wildfire nears.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, nearly 7 million acres across the country were burned in more than 78,792 fires in 2009, the latest year for which this data is available. In 2006, nearly 10 million acres burned. But these fires in the Austin area have hit close to home — literally and figuratively. One of the largest wildfires is in an upscale subdivision just minutes from my house, though it’s plenty far enough away from our house for us to be safe. However, we can’t say the same about a house that my wife lived in many years ago with her parents, who have also since moved. As I write this blog, we’re still unsure whether the house is still standing.

So what would we do if fire came our way? The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) suggests the following:

“Place valuable papers, mementos and anything ‘you can’t live without’ inside the car in the garage, ready for quick departure. Any pets still with you should also be put in the car.”

For my wife and I that meant our laptop computer, our important financial documents — including credit card information, birth certificates and so on — some old pictures and photo books, my son’s favorite stuffed animal and maybe a few other things from his room and that would be about it. It’s amazing how little we would ultimately need.

For others, it could mean their wedding dress, artwork, a beloved guitar, a football autographed by a sports hero, old love letters — anything that, as FEMA said, you can’t live without.

We at CreditCards.com have a checklist of eight key steps to take to prepare your finances for a disaster. This includes keeping cash handy, flood-proofing important papers and so on.

But disaster preparation is about more than financial documents and sentimental items. Ready.gov, which is run by FEMA, suggests making an emergency supply kit. And the kit’s not just for wildfire preparation; it can be useful in case of floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, winter storms and beyond.

Here’s what they say:
“Get an Emergency Supply Kit, which includes items like nonperishable food, water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and batteries. You may want to prepare a portable kit and keep it in your car. This kit should include:

  • Copies of prescription medications and medical supplies
  • Bedding and clothing, including sleeping bags and pillows;
  • Bottled water, a battery-operated radio and extra batteries, a first aid kit, a flashlight;
  • Copies of important documents: driver’s license, Social Security card, proof of residence, insurance policies, wills, deeds, birth and marriage certificates, tax records, etc.”

My wife and I will likely take some steps in the near future to prepare ourselves for a future disaster. At a minimum, it’s likely that we’ll write down some sort of checklist of what to grab if we have to evacuate quickly. But for the most part, we’ll be thankful that our family and our possessions are safe, and we’ll keep those who aren’t so lucky and those fighting the fires in our thoughts.

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  • Brad

    Horrible!!! Having gone through several fires in Malibu, the Corral Canyon Fire on November 24, 2007 was the one that destroyed my home. IMPORTANT: Homeowners don’t realize that an itemized list is required by your insurer after a loss. Plus, if I had compiled a list prior to my loss, I would have realized I was under insured! This was my families OMG moment.
    IN HIND SIGHT, I WISH I HAD DONE A HOME INVENTORY! This is Job #1 in being prepared.
    As part of September’s Disaster Preparedness Month, we are offering DocuHome’s Home Inventory Software for FREE.
    http://docuhome.com/index.asp?action=POPSIGNUP&PromoCode=THANKSBRAD